It wasn’t long ago that tech companies were seen as the vanguards of what great employers should be. An ideal working environment circa 1999 was measured by the number of foosball tables on offer, while business attire consisted of jeans and T-shirts. Few appreciated the reality: techies dressed that way so they could easily flop out under the nearest foosball table after 16 hours at the keyboard.
These days, that won’t cut it. Take Next Level Games, a small but fast-growing Vancouver video game developer that appears for the first time on this year’s Top 100 Employers, as compiled by Mediacorp. In an industry famous for chewing through workers, Next Level tries to strike a balance between work and life, offering some of the most lucrative parental benefits around and attractive vacation time to start. This is what it takes to be considered among the best employers in Canada. And the bar is only getting higher.
Thanks to the tight labour market, quality workers are now asking not what they can do for their bosses, but what their bosses can do for them. Hundreds of employers are answering the call, as this year’s list attests. But what it also reveals is just how fast and dramatically the modern workplace is changing.
Over the past year, Richard Yerema and his team at Mediacorp pored over thousands of pages of material from more than 1,800 organizations to identify the very best. This is perhaps the most in-depth analysis of human resources trends in Canada’s public and private sectors available anywhere. It’s not a ranking, but a compendium that aims to shed light on what the best employers are doing to retain talent. Mediacorp will publish its full report of the Top 100 employers in book form this coming spring.
Since Maclean’s first partnered on the project seven years ago, remarkable trends have begun to emerge in the benefits employers offer. True, a competitive paycheque remains paramount. But Mediacorp’s analysis shows it takes creativity, more than big budgets, to be the best. “There are smaller employers you might never have heard of who are trying things and realizing that they can offer industry leading benefits,” says Yerema. “You don’t have to be big to be good.”
Some of the biggest changes have been in the benefits offered to new parents. In 2000, when Ottawa doubled maternity leave to a full year, only a handful of companies topped up payments to help out families. Now the majority of employers on the Top 100 kick in, with some covering as much as 95 per cent of an employee’s benefits while on maternity leave. It’s not just moms getting a better deal either. Today half of all employers on the list top up payments to fathers, double the figure just two years ago. Helping matters is a sea change in the way employers view the virtual workplace. Many leading organizations now accommodate staff who wish to work from home by tapping into the boom in telecommunications. Fully 82 per cent of employers on the list let people do some work from home, up from 65 per cent in 2004.Employers have also boosted the vacation time offered to new employees. It used to be workers had to clock several years before they could earn a three-week vacation. It’s quickly becoming standard for Top 100 employers to offer three weeks right off the bat, while some highly competitive sectors like oil and gas start workers at four.
Among leading employers there’s also been a dramatic push to help staff improve their skills. Almost all employers on the Top 100 offer some form of tuition support. Nor are such programs limited to big employers. At the Great Little Box Company in Vancouver, for instance, tuition support is available to the children of all its 170 workers, too.
This year, Mediacorp also expanded its focus to look at how employers integrate recent immigrants. Qualified workers are scarce, yet too many new Canadians fall through the cracks because their foreign credentials aren’t recognized. A growing number of the Top 100 employers have begun to accept qualifications from other countries, while offering programs to help recent immigrants adapt. Others have gone further still. Toronto-based accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers recently extended its program to the families of immigrant staffers, even helping spouses find jobs.
New trends will continue to emerge as labour markets tighten and employers strive to set themselves apart. For example, organizations have begun to offer compassionate leave for workers with a terminally ill family member. Since last year, Toronto Hydro has offered employees in that situation up to eight weeks off, while topping up their payments by 95 per cent. Expect to see even more employers follow suit.
Of course, even with the best benefits package, there’s no guarantee employees won’t jump ship, especially in hyper-competitive industries. But the smartest bosses know what it takes to lure the best workers, and foosball tables and casual dress codes aren’t it.